Imagine if you can driving down a deserted road in rural America and coming across 3 Billboards that say in sequence “Still No Arrests”, “How come, Chief Willoughby?” and “Raped While Dying”. This is the explosive opening premise of director and screenplay writer Martin McDonagh’s brilliant new film. The billboard advertising has been arranged by Mildred (Frances McDormand) who is frustrated and enraged by the lack of progress the police department have made in solving the case of her daughter’s brutal murder.
However, whilst her quest for justice is understandable her confrontational approach alienates most of the blue-collar local community, not least because local sheriff Willoughby (Woody Harrelson). He is a popular figure struggling with a serious illness. So Mildred finds herself at odds with the police department, the church, the media, her own family and in one of many memorable scenes even her dentist (well, perhaps that’s to be expected as they’re generally no more than sadists with a medical qualification).
McDormand is quite outstanding as the wounded but tough, foul mouthed and uncompromising Mildred. (Her take down of a Catholic priest in the early part of the film is worth the entry price alone). It’s the role of a lifetime bettering even her breakthrough part in Fargo, and thoroughly deserving of the Oscar she is tipped to win. But the film’s strengths don’t lie purely with the central performance as McDonagh’s script give wonderful lines and depth of characterization to even the smallest of parts.
It’s also a film that achieves the most extraordinary tonal shifts, because despite the dark subject matter at its heart, it is in places laugh out funny, particularly in the character of Police Officer Dixon wonderfully played by Sam Rockwell who combines hilarious stupidity with chilling brutality in equal measure.
Prepare for industrial amounts of swearing, after all this is from the director of In Bruges, but also expect to see one of the very best dramas likely to be released this year.